Move over Eagle Speedster, THIS is the prettiest car in the world.

The rarefied club of readers of this blog will recognize my many prior ululations in salute of my erstwhile Carrera 3.2. These astute few may also remember that a few months ago, that car had left our families fold, as we searched anew for a replacement. One, distinct from the stark and dull 80s look to a more chrome laden, but new car. Discerning readers might think that a Porsche reimagined by Singer might meet these criteria, but to an untrained eye (and we have many in our family), they still seem like an acquired taste. As cars go, built with Germanic precision, with crisp handling and accurate dynamics, nothing comes close to a Porsche in maximizing the drivability and performance to price ratio. However, the real price you pay, is the push-me, pull-you bug-eyed appearance. Despite my many efforts to portray it otherwise, the beholder that finds a Porsche pretty is rare.

Which is why, the aesthete of the family and love of my life, never really warmed up to it. Also, growing up in a middle-class household, we could never really think of a “used” car as special. On a jaunt to Fastlane Cars in St. Charles, MO, we came upon a gorgeous Porsche Blue Shelby Cobra Replica made by Backdraft Racing in Boynton Beach FL. Coming on the heels of watching Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford vs. Ferrari, she was familiar with the shape but enamored of the brightwork and the colors of this beautiful car.

Looking more into BDR, I found that like a modern-day iteration of Carroll Shelby, this was a company with a strong racing heritage, who were not trying to replicate a Cobra, but build a beautiful modern classic racecar inspired by both the spirit as well as the shape of the Classic Cobra. While Shelby American continues to sell “authorized” continuation copies (both in aluminum and fiberglass), there are several manufacturers that build “replica” cars. I would like to briefly review my thoughts on them from my research on the internet and why one could choose to buy on of them and how it influenced my decision to go with a Backdraft.

  1. Shelby American: These are continuation cars with both aluminum and fiberglass bodies sold as rollers (i.e. rolling chassis with everything minus the engine and transmission). Shelby does make a variety of Ford derived engines that fit these. They do have independent front and rear supsensions with updates to make them more modern, but the original top-loader four and the 427FE engine (while classic – tend to be a bit of a 60s handful). These are also at a significant premium with a take-home cost of $150k (fiberglass) and $250K (aluminum) with a typical engine set up. Cost aside, these do represent a good value when it comes to resale.
  2. Superformance. Licensed by Carrol Shelby (after a lawsuit), these are honest copies of the Shelby with a variety of modern accoutrements to make the Serpent less of a threat. No, you don’t get ABS or traction control, but still. With jewel like precision and superb fit and finish, they seem to have become the industry standard. From the 289 “slab side”, the 289 FIA, the 427 roadster and the 427 s/c, they make Cobras in all flavors and shapes. While respected both as a car as well as with resale, I was some what put off by the unashamed similarities to the original and did not want to come of as a poser. Plus, the original Hi-Tech company and Superformance were originally a collision company restoring old damaged cars, not really a Carroll Shelby esque racing heritage. FWIW, all the cars used in Ford v. Ferrari were SPF replicas.
  3. ERA. With Everrett Morrison, probably one of the oldest acts, these are well respected replicas sold as owner assembled kits. I lack the sophistication to assemble one, nor the confidence to drive something I put together in the garage, a car with an enormous engine trying every second to swallow me whole. That said, a well put together ERA is a beautiful sight, but the key is finding one that is well put together. Also, the whole point was to move away from a used car.
  4. Everret Morrison. Also good cars but IMHO in the second or third rung.
  5. Factory Five Racing. Initially building these cars by putting a fiberglass body on an old Mustang ‘donor’, these have moved to modern chassis with wonderful attributes. The fact that several builders will deliver a turnkey product, does not change the fact that something in their appearance or prior stigma – does not really look right to me.

Backdraft Racing is a South Africa based company with strong racing roots. As winners of Daytona in 1984, Reg Dodd and Tony Martin, imbue these cars with the raw spirit and character of the original car that inspired these. With a subtly different shape, these pay an homage to the artistry of the AC Ace body (originally circa 1953) modified by Carroll Shelby in 1965 with flared front and rear fenders, a giant maw and huge side-pipe exhausts. And yet, looking at the car, it does not look like someone cloning a car but creating a different inspired original. Unlike many of the replicas above, these were built to race first, drive or show last. With a typical ladder suspension bonded to a beautifully painted fiberglass shell, these cars represent the best ideals of the performance of the original Cobra without the weakness of the aluminum body. Fiberglass, the shell used in Carroll Shelby’s first choice, the Corvette.

And what is it like?

Glorious. Simply glorious.

As I gingerly, sat down and was briefed by Dan Hillebrandt, the sales manager at FastLane Cars, the horror stories of crazy cobras and drivers out of their depth, filled my mind. Turning the key and pressing the starter button seemed to unleash Surtur as the entire world began to shake and tremble. Passers-by took a step back. Abashed by the drama, I bid farewell to my guide, engaging first and letting out the clutch as the newest member of our household rolled forwards towards the exit of the lot. It is at this point that I realized that the drivers and passenger side, RayDot mirrors were a wonderful cosmetic addition, with no purpose. The only thing scarier than driving a 2400lb pound car with 7.0L V8 engine with 488 bhp and 533 lb ft of torque, is doing so without knowing who else might be on the road.

Gingerly, easing myself on to the highway, I was immediately pleased to see that the more “novice” T5 gearbox, allowed me to shift quickly through the gears to settle into a legal cruise, while traffic seemed to zip around me. Still, noone seemed to come as close as they are wont (in my other vehicles). I would like to believe that the fearsome thunder emanating from this Reptile had something to do with it. The price of all that thunder? Refueling halfway from home. With an uneventful ride back home, this Indigo Blue RT4 with it’s white racing stripes, noisily slipped up our driveway and joined our family, welcomed by her new namesake, her dog and the two kids as they posed for pics.

By Kartik Mani

Widely known for my extremely poor sense of humor, my life revolves around being an interventional cardiologist in the daytime; a molecular and cell biologist, when not placing stents in peoples arteries; a blogger when I get the time; a philosopher, when epiphany strikes; a rangefinder artist, when provided the inspiration and subjects; a car nut of staggering proportions; and Son, Brother, Dad and Husband to the greatest family known to mankind.

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